How to identify Sloes to make sloe gin etc

How to identify Sloes

How to identify sloes

Botanical drawing can be one way of how to identify sloes

Before you can make your sloe gin, sloe wine or sloe anything then really you have to know how to identify Sloes.  DON’T FORGET I CONDUCT GIN SAFARI evenings to find out more click here.

There was a point when I didn’t know how to identify sloes. In fact, I remember picking a bunch of Ivy berries instead. It was before the days of Youtube and so who know’s how I learned anything! I only wish there had been a friendly forager like myself to hand.

In the UK, across some of Northern Europe and as I discover in this youtube clip even down to South West France (near the Dordogne) you will find the Sloe. There are rarer in the States but they do grow. They were one of the plants used to mark boundaries after the enclosures act and so you’ll often find them on the edges of fields or to mark other land borders. In France, they were in abundance, often on the outskirts of what looked like disused and overgrown farmland.

The sloe grows on the blackthorn bush. These are easily identifiable due to their inch long black thorns. They are a wild form of plum and so expect the bush to look like a miniature plum tree. They will have slightly serated leaves. But don’t be fooled, sometimes the thorns are hard to find. Also, to confuse matters further you might find something bigger than a sloe, a bullace or a damson. Cut it open and look for a pip that looks like a plum. Follow this up with an image search.

Expect to find blossom in the spring and the fruit from around July/August onwards, green at first then turning black. They can hang around on the bush right up to the blossom comes out.

You could also nip down to your local botanical garden. In fact this is what I do when I really want to nail what a plant looks like. Most major cities will have one, some are as part of parks and some of the bigger ones are gardens in their own right. Kew gardens is one of the best examples in my opinion and if you haven’t been, you should get yourself down there and have a wander. It helps to know the latin name in the case of the Sloe this is Prunus spinosa.

When to pick sloes?

As soon as they are black. Wack them in the freezer then stick them in your gin!

 Still don’t know how to identify sloes?

Please feel free to comment below if you still don’t know how to identify a sloe berry and I’ll see if I can help.

Andy Hamilton

Brewer, forager, broadcaster, spaceman occasional liar

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27 Responses

  1. p. says:

    Any known sloe bushes in st helens / merseyside area please?

  2. Emilie says:

    Hi there,
    Is there a dangerous fruit that sloes can be confused with? I was out picking blackberries and I think I have spotted some sloes.
    Many thanks

    • Without trying to sound glib Emilie it is hard to say really Emilie as I don’t know how easily you might confuse things. You may well have as they are starting to ripen now in the south of the UK. I guess Laurel berries and Ivy berries you need to be sure of. Check they have a plum stone and do they look like in the video?

  3. Eric McKie says:

    Sloe’s in abundance in the Dover/Deal part of Kent this year. Have been meaning to try and make sloe gin and sloe vodka for years.

  4. jean wait says:

    Plenty of sloes growing in concord park Sheffield 5, bottom end of the park near the football pitch.. cheers

  5. Kate says:

    Laurel bushes have poisonous berries. Not easy to confuse but just in case!

  6. G Rinne says:

    Sloe berries are blue/black in coulour but hard – are they ready to pick?

  7. Katie Plimmer says:

    Hi Andy, just found what I think to be sloes so I picked a berry and a leaf. The berry has a large stone and the berry is very dark purple, almost black in colour. Would I be able to send a photo of the leaf and stone so you can verify? Thanks

  8. Debi Hearn says:

    Hi Andy, do you know of any good places in and around North Somerset, Bristol, Bridgwater to find these little gems!!

  9. Tracey Upton says:

    I have been sloe picking and have inadvertently picked a few what I thought were sloes, after going a bit sloe blind! It seems some are red inside. Round as a sloe though are these damsons? I always thought they were greenish too. Please advise as I don’t want to poison anyone! They have stones inside and are the same size as sloes. In fact pretty much identical except for the red flesh!

    • Hard to ID with any accuracy without a photo – was the stone the same shape as a sloe stone? Did the tree or bush you picked from have the same leaves? It might just be a wild variant. Suggest you go back to the place you picked them from with a tree book and have a double check. Good luck!

  10. Laura says:

    Hi Andy
    I have found some sloes in North Cheshire but I was wondering if I should be leaving them until September/ October? Or if they are ok to pick now.. they are plump and dark blue.

  11. k says:

    any sloes around the Bristol area?

  12. Paula says:

    Hi Andy I think I’ve found my first sloe bush can I send a photo somewhere for clarification ??

  13. Jennifer Harris says:

    Do they have a pit, or seed inside?

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